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Google to use balloons to provide Puerto Rico cell service

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled to regain communications services.

Hundreds of people line up to buy ice at a local plant in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on 30 September 2017. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - The US Federal Communications Commission said late on Friday it had approved Alphabet Inc’s application to provide emergency cellular service to Puerto Rico through balloons.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled to regain communications services. The FCC said on Friday that 83% of cell sites remain out of service, while wireless communications company are deploying temporary sites.

Alphabet, which announced its Project Loon in 2013 to use solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to provide internet service in remote regions, said in an FCC filing it was working to “support licensed mobile carriers’ restoration of limited communications capability” in Puerto Rico.

Earlier on Friday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he was forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force with an emphasis on addressing challenges facing Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

“It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services,” Pai said in statement.

Separately, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Twitter posting late on Friday that he had a “great initial conversation with @elonmusk tonight. Teams are now talking; exploring opportunities. Next steps soon to follow.”

Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc, said on Friday the company would send more battery installers to Puerto Rico to help restore power after Hurricane Maria knocked out all power on the island over two weeks ago.

Musk said he was diverting resources from a semi-truck project to fix Model 3 bottlenecks and “increase battery production for Puerto Rico & other affected areas.”

In late September, Tesla said it was sending hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels to Puerto Rico to provide emergency help in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

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